On the West Coast highway, between Paternoster and Cape Town, lies the quaint dorpie of Darling. Home to Tannie Evita and the wild daisies, but also a must-stopover spot for fantastic gourmet fare.
Written by Johan Liebenberg
Photographs by Bruce Tuck
Whenever I visit the little town of Darling with its thresholds adorned with natural flora, I am reminded of the film Monsieur Hire, based on the novella by Georges Simenon, where Monsieur Hire, living in Paris, tries to coax a beautiful young woman to leave with him to Switzerland: “They beautify their homes and have flowerpots in the windowsills,” he says – or words to that effect. Instead of flowerpots, the people of Darling have verges covered in wild flowers.
They are fiercely proud of their town and the houses are painted in delightful colours, as if prettiness is the sole purpose of the place. In spring, of course, the town is transformed into a wonderland of colour as wild flowers bloom… well, pretty much everywhere. But there is another aspect to Darling, which is that it’s an up-and-coming gourmet destination while at the same time retaining its character as a dorpie.
8 Places to visit in Darling
1. Chicory Cheese Café
When in Darling, dash off to 5 Lang Street where you will find yourself, like me, in a charming courtyard surrounded by a lush garden area with the gurgling of a fountain competing with birds chirping in the background. It was surprisingly hot for a spring day and the delightful Sophia who welcomed us into this secret garth handed me a home-made, thirst-quenching lemonade, followed by toast topped with ham, a combination of Cheddar, spring onions, Dijon mustard and egg – grilled to golden brown perfection. On the plate, too, a Gandhi’s pancake had found its way, with an exquisite filling consisting of a coconut curried sauce and topped with toasted coconut – all courtesy of chef and owner, the innovative Anesia Darné. Seated outside, savouring delectable country fare, gleaming with freshness and beautifully presented, I was overcome by a feeling of well-being brought on by the beautiful garden sounds, the friendly service and the drowsy heat of summer. 076 975 6197; chicorycheese.co.za
2. Darling Brew Brewery & Tasteroom
It started at the foot of the Sneeuberg in 2007 when Kevin and Philippa Wood met a homebrewer and thought, “Why can’t we start a microbrewery in Darling?” This is what they did in 2010 and Darling Brew was born. They kept their nine-to-five jobs and made deliveries after 5pm, sometimes as late as 11pm! When brewmaster Felix Magdziarz joined their brewery, he brought with him his considerable expertise, because Felix knows about beer, alright. He has worked in different breweries in Germany and Scotland. Today, Darling Brew is one of Darling’s main attractions and Africa’s most recognised craft brewery. Here, you’ll find live music, good food and people – lots of people – even from as far away as Cape Town. Then it’s time to reach for a, um… Blood Serpent – just one of the unusually named and delicious craft beers in die Darling Brew range. 48 Caledon Street; 072 376 6917; darlingbrew.co.za
3. Darling Meat Market
It could have been a butchery in an Italian village, where the butcher’s trade is handed down from one generation to the next. Kevin Kriel, co-owner of the Darling Meat Market, looks just like I imagine a butcher to look; big hands, big forearms and an even bigger personality. Anyway, it was Kevin who told me how his grandfather started out life as a butcher along with his six brothers, all of them meat traders. There was only one daughter and she married – guess what? A butcher! The grandfather taught his son the trade and this was passed on to his two sons, Kevin and Stephen. Stephen, the older brother, is the one who initiated the deli, also experimenting and mastering – in the end – the legendary Italian delicacy, Parma ham. There is little you can’t buy at the Darling Meat Market – and their products are too many to list here, but do visit their website for the full range. 13 Main Street; 022-492-2633; darlingmeat.co.za
4. Darling Olives
Although Spain is the largest olive producer in the world today, some years ago I saw photographs of mountains of Spanish olives wastefully rotting in the sun, because they could not be processed timeously. South African olives, on the other hand, are estate-grown and the small scale ensures proper control, resulting in world-class, cold-extracted extra virgin olive oils. Darling Olives on the farm Alexanderfontein, just outside Darling, are grown in dryland conditions, thus ensuring concentrated fruit simply packed with flavour, the essence expressed in the olive oils themselves. Darling Extra Virgin Olive Oil has that lovely grassiness of a quality oil, with a typical peppery follow-through on the mid-palate and aftertaste. The farm also produces a garlic-infused olive oil as well as numerous olive-based products in very pretty jars, which you can sample in their tasting room and buy directly from the farm. R315, Yzerfontein; 022-492-3171; darlingolives.co.za
5. Groote Post Wine Cellar
Groote Post enjoys a unique terroir. The icy Benguela Stream, flowing directly from the South Pole, feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. Towards evening, cold mists roll in from the ocean and sweep across the Groote Post hills – this inhibits growth in the vineyards, causing the grapes to ripen slowly. The result is, ultimately, award-winning wines with bold flavours. Add to this Kapokberg – “kapok” being Afrikaans for a “dusting of snow or frost” – which is the highest elevation in the area. Because of the altitude, the lower temperatures mean white grape varietals; the delicate pinot noir also does exceptionally well here. A beautiful illusion is created in spring when all becomes clear why it’s called “Kapokberg”: the wealth of daisies covering the hilltop truly resembles a sprinkling of snow. Darling Hills Road; 022-492-2825; grootepost.com
6. Hilda’s Kitchen
This restaurant, housed in the old Groote Post (anno 1706) manor house, has been featured in Condé Nast Traveller and Eat Out nominated it in both “Best Bistro” and “Best Country-Style” categories in its region in 2013. Debbie McLaughlin heads the kitchen where she cooks unpretentious yet memorable country dishes. I fell upon a quiche, followed by their famous “Old Man’s Steak Roll” with garlic crème and hand-cut chips, and then, after appreciative sips of chilled Groote Post Riesling (try to get your hands on the estate’s riesling – you’ll be lucky to find a bottle as this wine sells out fast), I had possibly the best cheesecake I have yet had. Outside, there’s a gorgeous terrace, making it perfect for summer lunches. Hilda’s Kitchen is named after the illustrious hostess and recorder of life at this Cape outpost in the mid-19th century, Hildagonda Duckitt. To getthere you have to travel about 10km on a farm road, but it is well worth the detour. Darling Hills Road; 022-492-2825; grootepost.com
7. Ormonde Private Cellars
Aside from its flagship wine, Ormonde, the estate also produces the Ondine range of wines, named after the ballet created for the legendary Margot Fonteyn. At the same time, the Bassons wished to honour the remarkable women in their family, all principled and poised, dating back to grandmother Christine, whose fondness for swans will always be reminisced. There are a family of white swans on the estate still today and visitors are treated to the sight of these graceful creatures crossing the lawns on their way to the water. Here, on the sprawling greener pastures, visitors can enjoy the farmhouse lunch platters, consisting of artisan bread, a selection of fine cheeses, smoked charcuterie, home-made country chicken liver pâté topped with a port wine jelly, as well as other country delicacies like red-wine-poached pears, fig preserves and grape jams from the farm’s kitchen – all the while sipping fine wines from the Ormonde Private Cellar. Mount Pleasant Street; 022-492-3540; ormonde.co.za
8. Waylands Farm
I believe the way you wake up determines the quality of your day. Spending the night in the glorious old Waylands Manor House, run by John and Jeanette Duckitt, I woke up to an explosion of birdsong in my ears. It came from the dam across the way where a bewildering array of birds had nested – a favourite destination for bird watchers. Waylands is a working farm, run by John and Jeanette’s son, Michael. You are warned not to be surprised if you hear the lowing of Nguni cattle, the bleating of sheep or even the call of a jackal when you stay over – which you must. The Duckitts provide a hearty farm breakfast and there are braai facilities in the garden. Waylands is the place for frayed city nerves because here time does not hurry and life is pretty much lived as I imagine it was 150 years ago. Follow the R315; 022-492-2873; waylands.co.za